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Why First Solar, Inc.'s Shares Plunged 10% Today

By Travis Hoium - Oct 31, 2017 at 3:12PM

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Proposed tariffs on solar imports may not be big enough to boost First Solar's profits long-term.

What happened 

Shares of First Solar, Inc. (FSLR 1.93%) dropped as much as 10% in trading Tuesday after the International Trade Commission gave its recommendations for solar tariffs on imports, which came in lower than expected. First Solar was expected to be the biggest beneficiary of tariffs because its thin-film panels won't be subject to the tariffs. At 2:10 p.m. EDT, shares were still down 9.1% on the day. 

So what

Commissioners each made their own proposals for solar import quotas and tariffs, which ranged from a 0% tariff on cell imports up to 1 GW to a 35% tariff on modules. One commissioner even recommended an import license along the lines with what the Solar Energy Industries Association recommended, which could then be put back into the industry to support domestic manufacturers. 

First Solar thin-film installation in the desert.

Image source: Getty Images.

Price floors, which petitioners had proposed at $0.74 per watt, aren't part of the proposal, and neither are restrictive quotas that could limit the size of the industry. A 35% tariff would hurt the solar industry, but it would raise costs by $0.10 or $0.15 per watt, which wouldn't be the end of the world for installers. In fact, that's along the lines of the increase in prices manufacturers have gotten in 2017 as developers stockpiled panels. 

Now what

First Solar had a lot riding on tariffs, but it wasn't caught by surprise today. Management booked about two years' worth of production in the last quarter alone in an effort to lock in prices and demand. That will be a big advantage if tariffs, which will ultimately be decided on by President Trump, are as low as proposed, or lower. But there's no question that today's proposed tariffs are lower than management had hoped and won't lead to the windfall profits that could have come from more protective measures. 

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